The latest proposals for Queen’s Gardens, the only open space in central Croydon, have left residents underwhelmed, with some seeing the small public park being rendered into little more than an annex of the £120 million private housing development proposed for the former site of Taberner House.
Croydon Council sold the Taberner House site in a secretive, multi-million-pound deal earlier this year to a private developer called Hub, who have submitted plans to build 500 new homes in four blocks on the site of the former council offices.
Their scheme also includes extensive “improvements” to neighbouring Queen’s Gardens, “improvements” which have raised serious questions about the future of what has been a public green space since it was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1983.
A previous housing proposal which would have seen residential buildings from the Taberner House site extended on to part of Queen’s Gardens was blocked by the Labour council administration soon after they took charge of the Town Hall in 2014.
The latest proposals for Queen’s Gardens, which were presented to a council meeting last month, are part of the third set f building plans drawn up for the town centre site in just four years, and the first under which the scheme is solely in the hands of private developers, after the council junked its CCURV urban regeneration joint venture with John Laing and later dumped alternative plans working with Places for People or its own house-building private company, Brick by Brick.
After seeing the scheme submitted to the council, Andrew Kennedy, a member of the Croydon Transition Town group, has asked, “How will this be a ‘park’ any more?
“I can’t think of a more sensitive green space in the centre of Croydon. We must not let it become the backyard for the residential tower blocks. It should remain a special beautiful civic space. Yet the developer of the tower blocks has been given the responsibility of designing the Queen’s Gardens, too.
“This is a conflict of interest.”
Suspicions have been aired elsewhere that what is underway is nothing more than an under-hand land-grab, being conducted right in front of the Town Hall, as public open space is effectively handed over to private developers to help enhance the value of their properties.
Croydon Council and Hub have kept the purchase price of the Taberner House site a closely guarded secret.
Katharine Street sources have suggested that the council has sold the town centre brown field site for £24million, “subject to planning permission”. Croydon Council, of course, is the authority which will be granting planning permission, with the chair of the planning committee, Paul Scott, being the husband of Alison Butler, the council cabinet member who has recommended the land deal with Hub.
The sale of 350 private homes on the Taberner House site – with another 150 to be made available at “affordable” sale prices or rents – could ultimately be worth at least £120million to the property owners.
For developers to be able to offer potential buyers access to a precious green space in Croydon town centre may well enhance the sort of prices Hub might be able to charge for the apartments once complete.
Kennedy is among a number of people who has been asking for the council to provide more civic open space in the town centre as part of the regeneration work proposed by Westfield and Hammerson and by other large developers and landowners, including Minerva, the owners of the Nestle Tower, St George’s Walk and the listed Segas building.
Having seen the presentation documents for Queen’s Gardens, Kennedy wrote on social media, “I’m not reassured. The photo of the pre-app plans does not relate this space to the plans for the Civic Space because there are no linking steps. Rather it connects itself with the residential blocks with a ‘play ramp’ and a ‘play space’.
“If the residential blocks needs a play space, which of course they do, then they should be within the curtilage of that building.
“There is no indication of the space being considered as a cultural asset other than from introducing a café. There is no small performance space, no monumental feature like a town hall garden usually has, and no special feature has been made of the link to College Green and the underground art gallery or the Fairfield Halls.”
Tracey Hague, who in the past has been an election candidate for the Green Party, is urging residents to take part in a consultation about the future of Queen’s Gardens.
“The council has handed the responsibility for the redevelopment of the whole area to the developers of the adjacent Taberner House and this is muddying the waters between what is needed by the residents of the new tower blocks, play space, private community space and what is needed by the rest of us who use the public gardens.
“Queen’s Gardens is the only green space in the town centre and is heavily used by office workers. We need more of these, not less.
“Its function should not be confused with the needs of the residents of the new tower blocks. The residents should have their own children’s play space and communal space, and the Queen’s Gardens should not be used for this purpose.
“The two sites should be treated separately, though there may be visual linking between the two.”
Unusually, the consultation – which has been commissioned by and is being paid for by the developers – is being conducted by telephone interview. “If you feel the needs of the residents should not be confused with the needs of the public, then you need to tell them this,” Hague said.
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